Today our country celebrates Memorial Day. This federal holiday originated as Decoration Day. It was established in the United States to remember those who have died while serving in the country’s armed forces. Decoration Day was established after the American Civil War in 1868. The Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans founded in Decatur, Illinois, set aside this day as a time for the nation to decorate graves of Union war dead with flowers. By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions (celebrated on different days) had merged, and Memorial Day eventually extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service.

Memorial Day 2016

Lucy Gilmer Breckinridge Bassett

In honor of Memorial Day, I am sharing a poem I wrote in 1984 after reading, Lucy Breckinridge of Grove Hill: The Journal of a Virginia Girl, 1862-1864. 

Lucy Breckinridge was a nineteen-year-old girl who grew up very close to where I have lived since 1976. Three of her brothers and her first fiancé lost their lives in the Civil War. Lucy married Thomas Jefferson Bassett on January 28, 1865. She died just six-months later from typhoid fever.

 Paper Soldier

Driving past Fincastle sepia-
toned visions of Lucy Breckinridge,
like confederate soldiers, infiltrate
my thoughts. Her spirit forever
where Grove Hill once stood.
Civil War—idle days spent
writing letters, praying,
visiting the Bridge, Bonsack,
Buchanan, always waiting
for news of the wounded,
dead, battles lost and won.

A woman born to the wrong
Century, longing, yet
conditioned to reject
desire, to take up a pistol,
join with her brothers—
“Shoot some Yankees,”
or drench Virginia soil
with her blood—no more
precious than any man’s.
Silent yearnings secreted
100 years in her journal,
like a squirrel’s forgotton
winter nuts, now blaze
in my mind like cannon fire.

© Janet Buickerood Blue, 1984
Published originally in Wind Literary Journal
Volume 14 – Number 51

I suspect those who established this holiday had no idea how many American lives would be lost in subsequent wars and military conflicts. According to PBS News Hour that number is now in excess of 1.1 million. The enormity of that number truly saddens me. Today, all those who have lost their lives, as well as those who have lost loved ones and friends, are in my thoughts and prayers.


memorial day